Neck/shoulder pain of various etiologies

Introduction:

Your neck and shoulders contain muscles, bones, nerves, arteries, and veins, as well as many ligaments and other supporting structures. Many conditions can cause pain in the neck and shoulder area. Some are life threatening (such as heart attack and major trauma), and others are not so dangerous (such as simple strains or contusions).

Causes:

Most shoulder and neck pain results from injury to muscles and ligaments. The spinal cord, heart, lungs, and some abdominal organs also can cause neck and shoulder pain. Here are some examples:
  • Broken collarbone: Falling on your outstretched arm can cause your collarbone to break.
  • Heart attacks: Although the problem is the heart, heart attacks can cause shoulder or neck pain, known as "referred" pain.
  • Shoulder or A-C separation: The collarbone and shoulder blade are connected by a ligament. With trauma to the shoulder, this ligament can be stretched or torn.
  • Broken shoulder blade: An injury to the shoulder blade usually is associated with relatively forceful trauma.
  • Gallbladder disease: This can cause a pain referred to the right shoulder.
  • Whiplash injury: Injury to the ligamentous and muscular structures of the neck and shoulder can be caused by sudden acceleration or deceleration, as in a car accident.

Treatment:

Minor injuries that have only slight pain can be treated at home. If the source of the pain and the cause of the pain are not known, or if symptoms suggest you might have a more serious condition, you should contact your doctor while initiating basic care measures.
  • Heat: Do not use heat in the first week because it can increase the swelling in the injured area and worsen your pain
  • Pain control: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help control swelling and pain.
  • Rest: Use the injured area as little as possible for the first 2-3 days, then slowly begin to exercise the injured area. This speeds recovery.
  • Ice: Place the ice in a plastic bag, wrap the bag with a towel, and then apply to the injured area for 15-20 minutes every hour. Directly applying ice can damage the skin.
  • Elevation: Elevation of the injured area above your heart helps the swelling go down. This reduces your pain. Use pillows to prop yourself up.
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